Artist on the Field

Artist on the Field

Paul Gallivan paints the giant images and lines on all BC athletic playing surfaces

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Playing football for the old Christopher Columbus High School in the North End more than 30 years ago, Athletic Association maintenance worker Paul Gallivan competed on fields that were often more dirt than grass.

"The city fields were in such tough shape," the Winthrop native recalled. "Something inside me said, 'I've got to make these better.'"

Today, the former college and minor league football player and Park League baseball pitcher remains outstanding - quite literally - on the athletic field. Gallivan is the man to call when you need the yard lines marked on a football field, or a giant Eagle logo painted on a basketball court or hockey rink.

He and crewmates maintain the playing surfaces at Alumni Stadium, Conte Forum, Shea Field and the new Newton Campus soccer fields. He uses a specially made 24-by-19-foot stencil to paint the Eagle logo, a job that can take about six hours on the hockey rink, and up to eight hours on the basketball court.

Before the yard lines were made a permanent feature of the Alumni Stadium field last year, Gallivan and crewmates painted the surface by hand, using straightedges, stencils, and cross-field cables to guide the line-marking machine.

Does Gallivan prefer artificial turf to grass, or vice versa? "It's hard to say," he said. "Playing on grass is better, but working on turf, you don't get mud all over you. It's easier to paint turf, but you've got to be careful. If you make a mistake, you've got a lot of scrubbing to do."

He speaks from experience. In the days of the old United States Football League in the early 1980s, Gallivan was hired by the Boston Breakers to ready the playing surface at Boston University's Nickerson Field, where the fledgling club was to make its debut.

Paul Gallivan stands on one piece of his handiwork - the eagle at center court in Conte Forum.

"In the rush to get the field ready for the home opener, I mistakenly painted the 30-yard marker at the 40-yard line," he recalled, with a laugh. "I had to go scrub it off."

Gallivan has long been making his mark on playing fields. He played football at Northeastern University and Boston State College, earned a tryout as a punter with the National Football League's Atlanta Falcons in 1973, then played a season with the minor league New England Colonials. He also had a long career as an amateur baseball pitcher, playing a dozen seasons in the Park League and the Intercity League in the 1960s and '70s.

Before arriving at Boston College seven years ago, he worked for the University of Massachusetts-Boston, and Northeastern and Harvard universities. He also worked for a time for a Texas artificial turf company, traveling the country lining playing fields and painting logos. He still paints the lines at Nickerson Field.

Perhaps his most unusual assignment at BC has been the painting of a medieval prayer labyrinth, first on the lawn of Burns Library last year, and this fall on a lawn near Hovey House. The task involved special stencils and no small amount of mental calculation to achieve the desired concentric rings and rosettes over a space more than 50 feet in diameter.

"I had to walk the thing 10 or 15 times before I painted it," said Gallivan, who said the exercise left little time for reflective meditation. "The turns have to be precise and if you measure wrong, you end up in the wrong place. I was trying to make sure I did my math right."

Gallivan said his career on the playing fields of Boston College gives him great satisfaction.

"You look back on what you've done and think, 'That looks pretty nice,'" he said. "And when they win, it's even better."

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